It’s European Biotech Week – to mark the occasion, we’ve selected Swedish nanomaterials firm Cellevate as our Start-up of the Week.
In a nutshell, Cellevate is an innovative nanomaterial company that is developing the next generation of cell culture systems for early-stage drug discovery.
The Swedish start-up creates highly porous and consistent networks of nanofibers through a patented manufacturing process. Cells in these networks are allowed to proliferate and interact with other cells in three dimensions, in contrast to the monolayer cultures seen on conventional 2D surfaces.
The company’s main goal is to provide life-science researchers with more realistic cell-based in-vitro models for more relevant and successful research.
Cellevate’s CEO is Maximilian Ottosson, a self-proclaimed engineer by training and entrepreneur by heart. Ottosson was born and raised in Lund, Sweden. From early on, he realised he wanted to do something entrepreneurial with his life. So, when he was a teenager, he decided that an education in engineering would be a solid foundation to build that future on.
Ottosson studied engineering with a specialisation in nanotechnology at Lund University, where he began a research project with three classmates. The four students evaluated various applications of nanomaterials in life science.
He told Siliconrepublic.com: “The project was very successful and generated some interesting initial results, so we continued working on it until 2014 when I had finished my master’s. We then all decided to take the plunge and to start our own company, and thus Cellevate was born.”
The founding members are four engineers along with two professors from Lund University’s Department of Solid State Physics and Department of Zoology.
Ottosson recognised that for decades it has been extremely costly to bring new drugs to market, with the price reportedly doubling every nine years. In 2016, it reached an average of $2.6bn per drug, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.
“This is partly a consequence of the huge amount of resources spent on unsuccessful drug development,” Ottosson explained. He pointed out that almost 90pc of drugs entering clinical trials never reach their intended market, which causes stakes to rise as companies get further down the development path.
“There are a number of reasons for these spiralling costs, but at Cellevate we believe one of the key factors is that the tools available to test whether a new drug is going to be safe and if it’s going to work before we test it on human patients are failing us.”
‘The ultimate goal for now is setting a new market standard for early-stage pharmaceutical research’
– MAXIMILIAN OTTOSSON
So, Cellevate has developed a product line to be used in the earliest stages of drug development, where cells are used to predict the effects of new drugs, called the NanoMatrix line.
“Using synthetic nano-scaffolds produced using our own unique technology, we closely mimic the environment found inside the human body and have been able to show that cells growing in these materials behave more naturally,” Ottosson added.
“This in turn allows researchers working with us to receive more reliable, natural results from their earliest experiments to serve as better grounds for deciding which products to proceed with in expensive animal and human trials.”
So far, two of Cellevate’s products have been launched to the market and a third is on the way. Cellevate’s NanoMatrix line is being used in laboratories belonging to Harvard Medical, University of Cambridge, GE Healthcare and Boehringer Ingelheim.
“Nanofibers, usually defined as fibres with diameters on the nanoscale (1-1000 nanometers), have, during the last decade, received great attention both in academia and in industry. The large surface-to-volume ratio generates several interesting properties which are desirable for a great variety of applications,” Ottosson said.
While these materials and their applications are still in their infancy, industry and academia are exploring possibilities and advantages made possible with nanofibers within well-established industries.
“Cellevate has started with applications for nanomaterials in life-science research, specifically early-stage drug development. To this end, we create our synthetic nanofibrous structures to mimic human connective tissues, more specifically the collagen and elastin fibres that make up the so-called ‘extracellular matrix’ in humans,” Ottosson said.
When asked about the start-up scene in southern Sweden, Ottosson said it is “very vibrant”.
“There is plenty of infrastructure for early-stage companies and a lot of soft funding to test out new ideas. The vicinity to a university ranked top 100 in the world definitely doesn’t hurt either, and there is a steady flow of smart people coming through the region.
“Moreover, there are several incubators where you can get access to a lot of the competences you may not have when starting a company – legal, IP, accounting etc. Geographically speaking, I don’t think we could have found a better place to start our company.”
Cellevate’s primary goal is to focus on the commercialisation of its existing products for cell-based research, but Ottosson noted that the ability to produce nanomaterials in bulk offers interesting opportunities for other applications outside of life science in the future.
“The ultimate goal for now, however, is setting a new market standard for early-stage pharmaceutical research and to get our materials into the development processes of big pharma,” he said.
The company is currently undergoing a phase of expansion, both in terms of employee count and the number of projects it is involved in. This year, the biotech firm has been successful in leveraging its academic proof of concept and validation to start penetrating the pharmaceutical industry. As well as the ongoing projects Cellevate is running with GE Healthcare and Boehringer Ingelheim, Ottosson says there are more in the pipeline.
By the end of 2020, Cellevate will seek out investment. Ottosson didn’t say too much on that, telling us: “More information on that will be available soon.”
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